Kym Bergmann/Canberra

Vale Tony Ayers.

Tony Ayers was a remarkable man and a great Australian.  He was a person of enormous compassion and empathy, combining these qualities with a wonderful sense of humour and a fascination for the workings of Government.  A believer in social justice, he was relaxed in style, liking to put people at ease no matter of their rank or background.

Everyone still remembers the pleasure of visiting him as Secretary of the Department of Defence, when his preferred way of starting a meeting was to invite his guests into his kitchenette to make tea and coffee – a complete departure from the usual formality that goes with such high level events.

He was very kind to me when I worked in the Defence industry and always advised that any problems emerging on a project should be conveyed as soon as possible so that finding a solution became a mutual undertaking.  I faithfully followed his advice and when I would occasionally bring matters to his attention – almost invariably over lunch at his favourite Emperor Court Chinese restaurant in Yarralumla – he was true to his word.

He came from an era when the Public Service was just that – an entity that not only served the Government of the day but also had loyalty more broadly to the people of Australia.  This led to him giving frank advice to all politicians – most famously to the irritable Malcolm Fraser when he was Prime Minister – and he spoke out publicly and controversially in 1996 when the incoming Howard Government sacked several of his colleagues, which started the process of politicising the Public Service.  He will be greatly missed and his memory lives on.

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